GRANTS PASS, Ore. – The Grants Pass Downs is off and running, continuing a Josephine County tradition that dates as far back as the 1920’s, but two lackluster seasons left Southern Oregon race fans wondering whether the show would go on. The downhill trend started in 2011 when the county ran the race tracks, but the financial loss began to take its toll.
“They showed a $50,000 loss for horse racing,” Southern Oregon Horse Racing Association (SOHRA) president Rod Lowe says. “Then they came back and tried to make some improvements in 2012, and they showed about a $42,000 loss in 2012.”
So Lowe and SOHRA stepped in to try to turn things around.
“Oour organization is made up of horsemen,” he says. “We’re made up of jockeys, trainers and owners. So we all know the process that happens here. It really made a good marriage for us.”
So far that marriage is yielding great results. Despite two less races per day, the track took in $7,000 more in this year’s opening weekend compared with 2012. SOHRA saw a 38% monetary increase per race, and attendance was up.
“There seems to be a lot more enthusiasm,” longtime fan Jim Kuvallis says. “The crowds were bigger. Last year people were leaving late in the day. I didn’t see people leaving yesterday. Everybody stuck around.”
That includes the racers themselves.
“There’s more interest from the owners,” Oregon Quarter Horse Racing Association member David Nelson says. “There’s more interest from the trainers. I see you’ve got more horses down here this season than you had last season. So I think it makes a better entertainment event and better entertainment value for the public.”
The entertainment value is back. The economic impact is improving, but Lowe and SOHRA have an even greater motive.
“Somehow most of us just can’t give it up,” he says. “It’s our passion.”
If the early returns mean anything, Lowe won’t have to give it up.